A review of Dug-Up Gun Museum by Matt Donovan

Reviewed by Karen Poppy

Dug-Up Gun Museum
(American Poets Continuum Series, 197)
by Matt Donovan
BOA Editions
November 2022, ISBN: 978-1-950774-75-3, Paperback, 96 pages

In his poetry collection, Dug-Up Gun Museum (BOA Editions, Ltd. 2022), Matt Donovan takes us on a national tour of the violent reality with which every American has to reckon—a violent reality that has not been reconciled through any reasonable course of action:

Chekhov wrote One must never place a loaded rifle on stage
if it doesn’t ever go off. It’s wrong to make promises
you don’t keep. Even if America buried
many of its promises long ago, when it comes to the gun
& bullets we refuse to fail. 
                              (“Dug-Up Gun Museum”)
In the third week of November, 2022 alone, 22 people have been killed and 44 injured, “all through the barrel of a gun.” The third week of November, on which Thanksgiving falls, several families lost loved ones or saw them injured through gun violence. Club Q in Colorado, a Walmart in Virginia, and several other locations across the country. In layered trauma, and with gatherings and protests, for Native Americans, this is The National Day of Mourning, recalling the atrocities committed against Native Americans in the United States. Gun violence featured early in this country’s history, along with other forms of extreme violence. This violence reverberates through time, and has expanded and expanded to now include our entire populace, swallowing us whole.

A wide-open Door To Nowhere, like the one at the Winchester Mystery House, “ which all of us needed to see,” we gape into the void and cannot make our way through the darkness—meaningless darkness, into which we are led by way of labyrinth corridors (“It’s easy to get lost in here. Folks go missing all the time.), grief, and guilt. (“Portrait of America as a Friday the 13th Flashlight Tour of the Winchester Mystery House”)

Our collective heart shatters like broken mirrors in these corridors, like shards of too quickly extinguished light. Autopsy photos of children who died at Sandy Hook, a teenager “shot unloading a drum kit outside a church.” (“The Wrong Question More Than Once”) Except, our collective heart does not include “Second Amendment fans…They’d say ‘Yeah, that’s what guns do.’” Id. 

Donovan’s poems, sensitive and unflinchingly brave, pull us through this grisly reality, showing our country’s stubborn and sick fascination with guns, and downright reverence. We are expected to bury our human dead, and accept that guns will be dug-up. Not as relics, but as emblems of American freedom. New guns will be manufactured and purchased every day. Made to do what guns do.  

About the reviewer: Karen Poppy’s debut full-length poetry collection, Diving at the Lip of the Water, is forthcoming in 2023 with Beltway Editions. Her chapbooks Crack Open / Emergency (2020) and Our Own Beautiful Brutality (2021) are both published by Finishing Line Press. Her chapbook, Every Possible Thing, is published by Homestead Lighthouse Press (2020). An attorney licensed in California and Texas, Karen Poppy lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.